Rights: The University of Waikato Published 9 April 2010 Download

In this video, Dr Nick Strickland, a research scientist at IRL, describes the settings in which high-temperature superconductors are being used. The principal end use is in the construction of powerful electromagnets. Medical imaging machines like MRI scanners are dependent for their operation on powerful electromagnets. When high-temperature superconductor wires are used in their construction in place of conventional copper wire, the electromagnets operate more efficiently and more economically.

Rob Young
Van der Veer Institute


The principal end uses that people are likely to encounter in the future are perhaps ones that are related to creating an electromagnet. High-temperature superconductors can be used to replace the current materials in any kind of electromagnet.

So electromagnets typically will use copper wire, which will get hot when you put a lot of current through them. So for example, an MRI machine contains an electromagnet, which is built from conventional low-temperature superconductors, and so these are required to be immersed in liquid helium, which is a very expensive refrigerant. If you replace magnets in MRI machines with high-temperature superconductors, then these can be cooled at the flick of a switch with a refrigerator.

So you can imagine replacing the wire in many of these types of electromagnets. You still have to cool them, but not quite so much, and you achieve a huge benefit in the size of the magnet that you end up with, because of the fact that you can put around 100 times more current through the same cross-section of the superconducting wire than you could through a copper wire.

There is a chance that it could be used in power transmission, however, the immediate benefits are likely to come from more compact devices such as generators, transformers, motors and electromagnets.